Getting your flu vaccine every fall should be a fairly routine task. And if you haven't been making the immunization a yearly habit, now's a good time to start, especially if you’re 65 or older: Adults in that age range are at increased risk of developing serious complications from the flu, which can result in hospitalization or death.
Also consider adding a one-time dose of pertussis, or whooping cough, vaccine to your list of must-get immunizations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the vaccine for all adults, including those ages 65 and older, especially those who have close contact with infants. The recommendations protect children from adults who can spread the disease, but pertussis in older adults has serious consequences as well. It can lead to pneumonia and coughing severe enough to fracture ribs.
Following is a rundown of routine vaccines recommended by the CDC for most healthy adults over age 50 unless otherwise indicated. Your doctor may suggest additional immunizations against the measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox or meningitis depending on your history of infection or vaccination. Other immunizations, such as the hepatitis A and B vaccines, are needed only by people who have specific risk factors.
Flu (influenza) vaccine
Who should get it: All adults. If you have an egg allergy or a history of Guillain-Barré syndrome, however, consult with your doctor.
How often: Yearly. Flu strains differ each year, so last season's flu shot will no longer protect you against this year's strain.When: Every September or as soon as the vaccine is available. However, you can receive the vaccine anytime during flu season, which can run as late as May, and it will still be effective.
Tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (Tdap) vaccine
Who should get it: All adults through age 64, and adults 65 or older who have close contact with infants. Older adults who have no close contact with infants have the option of either Tdap or the tetanus and diphtheria (Td) vaccine.
How often: Once only for the Tdap vaccine and a Td booster dose every 10 years.
Pneumonia (pneumococcal) vaccine
Who should get it: Healthy adults 65 and up; younger adults who smoke or have certain risk factors such as diabetes or chronic heart, lung, liver or kidney disorders.
How often: Once at age 65 or older. If you were vaccinated before turning 65, you'll need a second dose if five years or more have elapsed since your first dose.
Shingles (zoster) vaccine
Who should get it: Ages 60 and older.
How often: One time only.
Source: Prepared by the Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50